March 08, 2012

Interim Report-Status of the Study "An Assessment of the Prospects for Inertial Fusion Energy"

National Academy of Science - Interim Report-Status of the Study "An Assessment of the Prospects for Inertial Fusion Energy" 60 pages pdf)

In this interim report, the Committee on the Prospects for Inertial Confinement Fusion Energy Systems reached the following preliminary conclusions and recommendations.

Conclusion 1: The scientific and technological progress in inertial confinement fusion has been substantial during the past decade, particularly in areas pertaining to the achievement and understanding of high-energy-density conditions in the compressed fuel, in numerical simulations of inertial confinement fusion processes, and in exploring several of the critical technologies required for inertial fusion energy applications (e.g., high-repetition rate lasers and heavy-ion-beam systems, pulsed-power systems, and cryogenic target fabrication techniques).

Despite these advances, however, many of the technologies needed for an integrated inertial fusion energy system are still at an early stage of technological maturity. For all approaches to inertial fusion energy examined by the committee (diode-pumped lasers, krypton fluoride lasers, heavy-ion accelerators, pulsed power; indirect drive and direct drive), there remain critical scientific and engineering challenges associated with establishing the technical basis for an inertial fusion energy demonstration plant.

Conclusion 2: It would be premature at the present time to choose a particular
driver approach as the preferred option for an inertial fusion energy
demonstration plant.

The committee recognizes, of course, that such a down-selection among options will eventually have to be made. In its final report, the committee will provide examples of key experimental results that will be needed to inform the decision points regarding which driver-target combinations are most likely to succeed.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) supports a major national effort in inertial confinement fusion at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) that is focused primarily on addressing technical issues related to stewardship of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile and national security. An intense national campaign is underway to achieve ignition conditions on the NIF, and there has been considerable initial technical progress toward this major goal, although progress has been slower than originally anticipated.

The current NIF laser, targets, shot repetition rate, production methods, and materials are not specifically designed to be suitable for inertial fusion energy (IFE) applications.

Nevertheless, many experiments that could be done using the NIF would be valuable for IFE even if the achievement of ignition is delayed—particularly those that provide experimental validation of predictive capabilities.

The above discussion led the committee to make the following recommendation.

Recommendation: Planning should begin for making effective use of the National
Ignition Facility as one of the major program elements in an assessment of the
feasibility of inertial fusion energy.

This interim report provides an overview of the committee’s preliminary conclusions and recommendations based on information gathered through its first four meetings. The committee is mindful that inertial fusion science and technology are evolving rapidly, and an effort has thus been made not to draw technical conclusions in the interim report that may change by the time the final report is issued in the summer of 2012. Thus, the interim report is intended to provide the sponsor with a relatively robust sense of the direction of the committee’s assessment and to assist the Department of Energy in planning future-year budget requests for inertial fusion energy, while maintaining the discussion at a moderately high level.

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